On 27 May, the St Mary’s Church organ will be 100 years old. A weekend festival of music will celebrate this centenary and Michael Blighton – who tunes the organ – will give a talk about the instrument
The pipe organ in St Mary’s Church will celebrate its 100th anniversary in May. It was built by the Leyton firm of Robert Spurden Rutt. In organ terms, this instrument is still considered a spring chicken! The church itself dates from 1790, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see an organ of the same date in the church (as with other furnishings), so I will also talk about what we know of previous instruments in the church in my talk this month.
Organs are thought to have existed in churches in England for over a thousand years, although we have very little surviving organ material from before the English Civil War (1642–1651), and even less from before the English Reformation of the 1530s, but there is a fair amount of early written material about organs and organ builders surviving in the archives of our great cathedrals and colleges.
During the 18th century, organs began to become popular again, especially in ordinary parish churches; then, during the Industrial Revolution (with the expansion of our cities and subsequent church building) organ building got its largest boost in history, especially with the founding of so many Nonconformist churches and chapels, all needing their own organs. Some 19th-century organ-building firms became huge, supplying the home market as well as the British Empire. One firm in Norwich produced one new organ a week; today, most firms would take four to five months for such a task.
An organ works by each of its pipes being blown with wind when the corresponding notes are played by the organist on the keyboards or pedalboard. The wind itself comes from the organ’s bellows which these days are fed by an electric blower rather than some poor choirboy operating the pumping handle at the back of the organ! ‘Organ stops’ are ranks of pipes which can be drawn by the organist either alone or in combination to change the sound effects and power of the organ. There are many videos on the internet that can demonstrate how a pipe organ works and are well worth taking a look at.
My job is to keep the organ in good working order and tune the pipes (all by ear); this is done about twice a year. Let’s hope this fine organ continues to play for another century!
The church will be holding a May Music Festival from 26 to 29 May featuring four events. The Sonare Vocal Quartet will kick off the celebrations, and we’ll also hear from a number of local professional musicians in a chamber music concert to mark the centenary. Everyone is invited to come along and help mark this special birthday.
St Mary’s Church is located on Overton Drive, Wanstead. The May Music Festival will run from 26 to 29 May (event details below). For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org